Young talented high schoolers from all walks of life compete in the annual August Wilson Monologue Competition, giving them the opportunity of a lifetime: To not only get a chance to appear on Broadway, but gain exposure to some of the greatest, most poignant and culturally impactful works of the 20th Century.
August Wilson was one of the greatest playwrights of a generation. The late two-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning auteur is perhaps best known for his collection of ten plays, known as "The Pittsburgh Cycle" or "The American Century Cycle," with each one taking place in a different decade of the last century. They weren't released in chronological order, and they don't feature the same characters or exact locations. They are however, woven together and belong to the same fabric, each dealing with themes of systemic racism, generational inequalities, black rage and oppression, and each adding new voices to struggles that still exist today and are, sadly, still very relevant.
There's been an August Wilson renaissance of late. To date, there have been just two "American Century Cycle" plays adapted to the big screen (1995's "The Piano Lesson" and the Oscar winning 2012 film, "Fences"), with a third - Netflix's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" - coming on December 18th, 2020 (notably, this movie is also the final film role for the late Chadwick Boseman). In "Giving Voice," we learn that Wilson's legacy is alive and well.
The documentary allows us time with several of the August Wilson Monologue Competition hopefuls, as they study, audition and move through the ranks of the competition. Each of them along the way find meaning in Wilson's words and characters, as acting coaches preach context, making sure these young men and women understand the importance of it all. Guiding us through and providing some tremendous insight along the way is both Viola Davis and Denzel Washington, the film stars of "Fences" (both Davis and Washington also starred in their roles in the 2010 Broadway revival).
Sneakily, "Giving Voices" ends up being a biographical documentary on August Wilson himself. We learn about his upbringing, his career and process, and his untimely death in 2005 at age 60, of liver cancer. Interspersed are some old interviews with Wilson himself.
The real stars of "Giving Voice" though, are the young competitors. Wilson gave voices to a generation of people, who are now in turn keeping Wilson's voice alive. His work continues to be a part of this new generation, and not just for African-Americans. Wilson's "Cycle" was about America, with messages that reach far beyond race, creed or color.
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes.
Directed by James D. Stern ("American Chaos") and Fernando Viillena ("Any One of Us").
"Giving Voice" is available on Netflix on Friday, December 11th, 2020.
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